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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Book Printing: Short-Run, Multi-Signature Books

As I noted in the last blog entry, I’m brokering a multi-signature print book for a client.

The Specifications of the Book

To recap the specs, the directory is 194 pages, 4” x 9”, printed on a 60# white matte text stock in 4-color process inks with bleeds. The book printer will need to provide only the book blocks (no covers or binding), drilled (26 holes) for the insertion of Wire-O binding by my client. Press runs could range from 100 copies to 5,000 copies.

Response from the Printers

I received responses from three printers today to the specs I had distributed yesterday. They fell into three general areas:

Quality of Custom Printing

The first printer to respond asked about the level of quality needed for the print book. I mentioned that the book included images of senators and representatives, but that these images were smaller than 1” x 1”. Moreover, the images came from various sources so they were not of consistent quality. Other than these images, the book included full-bleed area screens (one was approximately 10 percent cyan, and the other was solid yellow with approximately a 5 percent dot screen of magenta).

In simplest terms, these specifications indicate that a printer can provide “pleasing color” rather than “critical color” work. My client is not printing a marketing work highlighting automotive, food, or fashion images, which would require critical color reproduction.

Beyond this assessment of the “level of quality” needed, what the printer was really asking was whether he could print the book on a lower-end digital press that would not match the level of quality of offset lithography. He also had an HP Indigo as well as the lower-end, 4-color digital press, but the Indigo was at another location. I told him that quick turn-around was essential due to the timely nature of the print book’s content. I wanted to see samples, but I thought my client would find the quality acceptable.

Size of the Job

Another printer “no-bid” the job completely. This vendor has an HP Indigo, which might be appropriate for the shorter runs of the book (100 to 300 copies), but, if I remember correctly, the vendor’s main offset equipment is a 20” x 26” sheetfed press. This would be too small a sheet size to produce large enough signatures (ideally 32-page signatures, with two rows of eight 4” x 9” pages on either side of the press sheet).

My client’s job would tie up this printer’s press for too long, potentially bumping other work out of production for long periods. I can respect this. (Again, this is only my assumption, since the response from this commercial printing vendor was just that the job was too large.)

Transition from Digital to Offset

Another large book printer responded to the bid request but said his shop would need to start offset production at 1,500 copies. Below that, he would need to provide digital output. Furthermore, he would need to print the digital books on 50# matte stock rather than 60#.

Interestingly enough, the first book printer would need to produce his digital copies on 70# matte stock rather than 60#. For this book printer, the cut-off point at which digital would cease to be cost effective would be the 300-copy mark (300 copies of a 192-page book at 4” x 9”). From 100 to 300 copies, he would provide digital printing; upwards from there, he would provide offset printing.

Another Option Entirely

This is preliminary, but I have also been in contact with a fourth printer with an HP T230, a web-fed inkjet press designed for books, promotional materials, and newspapers. This may be a game changer. There are only 61 presses like this in the world.

This press can accept multiple-width rolls of printing paper (8” to 22”) and print variable data 4-color process work at a speed of up to 400 feet per minute. Moreover, the “printable frame length” is 11” to 72” , which would provide an addressable image area of 22” x 72”. For a 4” x 9” book, that would allow for two rows of 16 pages (16 pages x 4” wide plus bleeds, with one row above the other on one side of the press sheet and the same configuration on the back of the form).

The press can “duplex”: i.e., print both sides of the sheet at once. With a row of 16 pages on top and a row on the bottom, and then the same number of pages on the back of the sheet, we would have a 64-page signature. The book could then be printed in three press runs rather than six (i.e., in half the time).

In addition, the HP T230 web-fed inkjet press provides output comparable to the HP Indigo digital press.

This new digital press may just bring a lot of 4-color book printing back into the US from China.

What You Can Learn

  1. Don’t assume all printers have the same press equipment. Share your printing specs with a number of printers and see how each would produce the job and for how much.
  2. Consider the quality you will need. This is only one aspect of the job. Price and turn-around time are also important. If your job has small photos, “pleasing” color may be enough. You may not need “critical color.”

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